Tuesday, September 18, 2018

On the Mesha Stele

NORTHWEST SEMITIC EPIGRAPHY: When God Wasn't So Great: What Yahweh’s First Appearance Tells About Early Judaism. The oldest extra-biblical reference to Yahweh is in a 3,000-year-old Moabite stele, which boasts of defeating Israel, may mention King David – and paints a very different picture of God than the one we know (Ariel David, Haaretz premium).
While the events narrated in the two texts appear quite different, one of the most surprising aspects of Mesha’s inscription is how much it reads like a biblical chapter in style and language, scholars say.

Mesha explains that the Israelite king Omri succeeded in conquering Moab only because “Chemosh was angry with his land” – a trope that finds many parallels in the Bible, where the Israelites’ misfortunes are invariably attributed to the wrath of God. It is again Chemosh who decides to restore Moab to its people and speaks directly to Mesha, telling him “Go take Nebo from Israel,” just as God routinely speaks to Israelite prophets and leaders in the Bible. And in conquering Nebo, Mesha recounts how he massacred the entire population as an act of dedication (“cherem” in the original) to his gods – the exact same word and brutal practice used in the Bible to seal the fate of Israel’s bitterest enemies (for example the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15:3).

Although there are only a handful Moabite inscriptions out there, scholars had no trouble translating the stele because the language is so similar to ancient Hebrew.
The story of the discovery of the Mesha Stele/Moabite Stone would make a fair Indiana Jones movie. This article has good coverage of that story and of the historical importance of the inscription.

By the way — cross-filed under Cosmic Synchronicity — isn't it cool that the name of the author of this article is the same as a particularly mysterious phrase in the Mesha Stele?

Again, you need a free registration with Haaretz to read this article. For past PaleoJudaica posts on the Mesha Stele, start here and follow the links.

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